2013: Landmark garage burned
ALTAMONT — The village faced changes in personnel, businesses, and events in 2013, but maintained its hometown traditions and longtime events.
The village board adopted a $1.08 million budget in April, which included a 2-percent salary increase for village employees. The tax rate for residents was $2.79 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Village court made the news in 2013 as residents voted in an uncontested young Justice Lesley Stefan in March. Stefan, 28 then, filled the seat of retired Village Justice Neil Taber. Stefan had been an Altamont resident for two years since her return from Virginia where she studied at William & Mary Law School.
A Voorheesville native, Stefan graduated from Clayton A. Bouton High School before attending Syracuse University where she majored in policy studies and geography. She is an attorney for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Stefan said that acting as village justice would be an interesting way to offer public service.
“This is a great opportunity for me to serve,” she said in March. “I thought it would be a good thing to do for the village.” Before throwing her hat into the ring, she attended village court and observed Justice Rebecca Hout.
Also in March, Hout saw the case of a local mother who was arrested for driving a vehicle with a lapsed insurance policy. The case drew attention to the village police department and whether or not police officer behavior in Altamont was excessive.
The mother, local resident Jolene Kowalski, pleaded not guilty in March to three charges —driving an uninsured and uninspected vehicle with a suspended registration.
“We’re not arguing if my wife was in the right or the wrong about the car,” her husband, Josh Kowalski, told the village board in February. “We’re upset about the behavior of the police.”
Police Chief Todd Pucci said at the time that the state law is enforced consistently in Altamont and that Kowalski’s arrest was not excessive; a video of the arrest verified his account. He said the police did not shackle her as is typical with misdemeanor arrests.
He also asked, “How would all the other people we arrested feel if we let her go just because she lived in the village?”
Because the Kowalskis were late paying their car insurance, their policy had lapsed, Kowalski’s attorney, Michael McGarry told Hout in court. The lapse occurred while the Kowalskis were on vacation, he said, and they reinstated the insurance upon their return.
Hout reduced Kowalski’s charges to just driving an unregistered vehicle. She asked Kowalski to pay a $100 fine and an $85 court surcharge.
“It was a standard reduction for someone with a clean driving record,” McGarry told The Enterprise.
More court news
In June, Altamont Justice Hout dismissed a case against contractor Jacob Peru. Albany County Supreme Court reversed a guilty judgment handed down by former Village Justice Taber against Peru and sent the case back to Altamont for a new trial.
“As a judge, I can’t go into detail,” Hout told The Enterprise about her decision. “The court granted the defense motion to dismiss on grounds of the failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and in the interests of justice.”
Taber had found Peru guilty of breaking two state Department of Environmental Conservation laws for failing to get a permit to remove and transport what the DEC said was contaminated soil from the home of local residents Adam and Josephine Reinemann, of Prospect Terrace.
The Reinemanns filed a civil suit in which they sued the Altamont Fire Department and the village for $1 million in damages, when a 200-gallon oil spill occurred in their family’s basement, following a fire department volunteer’s investigation and manipulation of an oil valve on the home’s furnace.
“We are successfully defending this suit,” said Mayor James Gaughan in August.
Village Attorney Michael Moore, of Young, Sommer, LLC, told The Enterprise via e-mail that Albany County Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi denied the Reinemanns’ request last year to file a late Notice of Claim against the village for the oil spill in the Reinemann home.
“Young/Sommer, on behalf of the Village, successfully opposed the motion,” Moore said. “Judge Teresi agreed with our argument and denied the Reinemanns' motion, finding that they had not met the grounds established in the law for filing a late Notice of Claim.”
The village appointed its new superintendent and assistant superintendent of public works in April, keeping and promoting two long-term employees.
Jeffrey Moller is the new superintendent, replacing Timothy McIntyre who moved on to be Guilderland's superintendent of water and wastewater management. Moller, one of six applicants for the post, previously served as Altamont’s assistant superintendent.
The board promoted Larry Adams from chief water operator to assistant superintendent.
“It's been good,” Moller said of the transition.
“Very good,” agreed Adams. “Absolutely perfect. Jeff and I have worked together for 13 years. That's been a big plus.”
Moller and Adams oversaw the completion of the village’s new wastewater treatment plant improvements. The village board spent the year approving change orders for the $3.5 million-project designed by village engineer Barton & Loguidice. The project was completed within budget and funds for minor change orders were built into the budget, said engineer Richard Straut early in 2013.
In September, the village voted to increase its sewer fees. A fee charged in April will be 1.8 times users’water bills, and a second fee in October was to be 1.5 times users’ October water bills. Residents and non-residents who use the sewer service will also be charged a $45 user fee twice a year.
Also in September, the board voted to solicit bids for roof repairs at Village Hall. Moller said that the roof had leaked for the last four years, particularly during the spring thaw, and that the village had patched it repeatedly for the last 10.
“Patching doesn’t work, anymore,” Moller said. “We’ve had a few leaks in the museum area. It’s time to do something.”
The village sought estimates from professionals last spring because Village Hall has a rubberized flat roof, he said. The leaks were in the older part of the building, Moller said. The community room attached and behind Village Hall was not affected.
Bids were several thousand dollars less than the $45,000 budgeted from the village’s repair reserve fund, and repairs were completed this fall, Moller said.
Residents this year contemplated the erection of a 100-foot cell tower on the hill above the village proper, as the board agreed to allow a vendor to shop around for services. Cell-service providers would pay rent to the village for space on the tower, the board said, and village residents would likely benefit from improved cell coverage.
Volunteer fire departments in Guilderland Center, Altamont, and Knox hosted the Albany County firefighters’ parade at the Altamont fairgrounds in August.
“We like to do things together,” said Altamont volunteer firefighter Kyle Haines of the three neighboring departments. The county parade took place in Altamont several years ago but had been moved in recent years, he said.
“We wanted to bring it back,” Haines said. “All the volunteer fire departments are invited to display their apparatus and their membership.”
Departments received awards for their equipment displays, for their marching, and for drum lines.
Altamont’s landmark garage on Main Street went up in flames on June 5 and was demolished the next week, leaving bare ground. The brick and block four-bay garage was built at 127 Main Street in 1946 by Bill Makarowsky, who had returned from fighting in Europe during World War II.
Robert White, chief of the Altamont Fire Department, which battled the blaze in the wee hours of the morning, described it as “one big fireball.”
The Albany County District Attorney’s Office, in charge of the rest of the investigation, has made no arrests relating to the fire.
Other arrests, though, were made earlier in the year, stemming from the same site. Kevin R. Willsey was indicted in July on three felony counts — two for criminal possession of stolen property and one for illegal possession of a vehicle identification number. Willsey, 31, lived on Main Street in the village, across from the auto-repair garage where he had worked as a mechanic.
Altamont’s police chief, Todd Pucci, had described Willsey as a chop shop “customer.”
On Sept. 5, Willsey pleaded guilty to the top charge against him, admitting he knowingly bought thousands of dollars worth of stolen vehicles and parts, said the Albany County District Attorney’s Office; he admitted to being in possession of a stolen skid-steer loader, a 1997 International 470 tow truck, and vehicle identification numbers.
The Altamont police said the skid-steer was taken from the town of Worchester in Otsego County and was worth about $28,000 and the tow truck, which was sometimes called out to accident scenes by police, was rebuilt with stolen parts.
Social life in the village
Desolation Road Studios closed its doors this fall, after four years of providing music and art to Altamont and the surrounding area.
“I’m not closing my business, I’m just closing my Altamont location,” said owner Jim Miller. “Mostly, it’s ‘location, location, location.’ ”
Desolation Road Studios housed a custom-framing shop, artist consignments, and a store and gift shop.
Miller photographs artists’ work and creates prints, restores old photos, and photographs three-dimensional art, he said. Miller will continue to offer his services by working out of his home and out of rented studios, he said then.
In a letter to his patrons, Miller wrote, “It is with a heavy heart and much anguish that I've decided to close the Desolation Road Studios location here in the beautiful village of Altamont.” Miller said that nearby Guilderland, with one of the region’s largest and highest-income populations, did not provide enough traffic through his studio.
Altamont Reformed Church celebrated past choir members in memoriam when it dedicated a new stained glass window.
“The choir purchased this window in memory of Chancel Choir members,” said Diane Kingsland, the minister of church music at ARC. “We lost several choir members this year.”
“Normally,” she continued, “the choir would purchase an anthem and sing it and dedicate it to a deceased member,” Kingsland said. When Milford “Doc” Becker passed away this year, she could not find a proper anthem, she said. The remaining singers said, “We don't we do something bigger?” Kingsland recalled.
A door that the choir walks through four times each Sunday has a window in it, she said. The door is adjacent to another memorial stained glass window, she said.
The window, designed by Don Dwyer of Adirondack Stained Glass Works in Gloversville (Fulton Co.), has a treble clef on a music staff, Kingsland said.
“There is a beautiful cross with a stained glass that looks kind of like wood,” she said. “The first four notes on the staff are from an anthem the choir has sung many times — 'Grace.' ” The symbolism of the design, she said, is that “the music of these people has ascended into heaven.”
The Altamont Community Tradition organization hosted its 12th annual Victorian Holiday Celebration in the village, offering house tours, shopping, wine tastings, and a visit from Santa.
Four houses were open for tours, and holiday tourists also visited the Breitenbach castle, where they were greeted by local bagpipe player John Scally.
ACT lit up the village for the main event of the weekend — the arrival of the holiday train and Santa.